As we await the exciting results of New Horizons’ flyby of Pluto on July 14, it is all too easy to think that this mission was inevitable: the capstone to NASA’s spectacular exploration of all the planets (and ex-planets) of the solar system since the 1960s. Yet, it proved extraordinarily difficult to sustain a Pluto project.
The first spacewalk by an American, which took place 50 years ago today, marked a new chapter in human exploration of space. Images of Edward White II floating in space with the backdrop of a beautiful blue and white Earth spread a sense of wonder around the world – humans could actually go to this place and it was amazing. While the spacewalk (or EVA, which stands for extra-vehicular activity) lasted less than 20 minutes, its significance for the future of human spaceflight in the American context cannot be underestimated.
One subtheme of the Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extravehicular Activity exhibition is the connection between the photography of spacewalking and art. We even hosted a special event in February featuring the photographer Michael Soluri and spacewalker John Grunsfeld to talk about how those two expressive visual methods came together during the STS-125 servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.
A full-size engineering model of the Pioneer 10 /11 spacecraft normally hangs in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall at the National Air and Space Museum. However, a few weeks ago it was removed and placed in the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, while the Milestones gallery undergoes a major renovation in the coming months.
Discovery entered service in 1984 as the third orbiter in the space shuttle fleet. Columbia and Challenger had already flown a total of 11 missions as America’s “space truck.” Discovery’s first mission, STS-41D, followed suit as the crew deployed, for the first time, three communications satellites, but it also signaled how the shuttle could serve as more than a delivery vehicle.
In 1984, Discovery ascended into space for the first time, after three thwarted launch attempts. Originally scheduled to lift off in June 1984, Discovery launched on August 30 as the twelfth space shuttle mission.
Thirty-five years ago, on July 11, 1979, the first US space station fell out of orbit. It wasn’t a surprise or an error, nor was it a calamity. It was more like an intense meteor shower—sparkling and momentary—as Skylab entered the atmosphere. Very little of this spacecraft as large as a house was ever found on the ground.